Meeting the Duty
How can public bodies meet the Duty in practice?
Tackling socio-economic disadvantage and narrowing gaps in outcomes are core to what public bodies do, so the Duty should not be particularly burdensome. Indeed, the aim of the Duty is to encourage better decision-making and ultimately deliver better outcomes for those who are socio-economically disadvantaged. It should also be a means of ensuring public authorities take economic and social rights into account. This guidance has been designed to build on existing practice as far as possible.
At the heart of the Duty is the key requirement that public bodies must:
actively consider, at an appropriate level, what more they can do to reduce the inequalities of outcome, caused by socio-economic disadvantage, in any strategic decision-making or policy development context, and we recommend they should publish a written assessment, showing how they’ve done this.
In doing this, public bodies must approach the Duty in a way that:
- Is not a tick-box exercise but is meaningful
- Takes place well before reaching a decision and influences that decision
- Helps to achieve public bodies’ strategic corporate and equality outcomes
- Makes sense to the public body in relation to the work they do and the processes they already have in place
- Makes sense to the people and communities they serve (in many cases this may need direct community participation), and
- Helps bring about demonstrable change.
Aside from the key requirement, public bodies are able to approach meeting the Duty as they see fit. The Scottish Government wants to encourage innovation in how public bodies meet the Duty and welcomes different approaches. However, guidance on how public bodies can meet the Duty is set out in the following pages.
Annex A contains an Evaluation Tool that can be used to help you assess how well your organisation is meeting the Duty. It is not mandatory to use this Tool and you can adapt it if required to better meet the needs of your organisation.
In its research report ‘Evaluating the Socio-economic Duty in Scotland and Wales’ the EHRC identified various overlapping factors in helping public bodies prepare for, and meet the Duty, including:
Leadership: positive buy-in from senior managers and board members was cited as being important in driving forward the Duty and ensuring it was treated as a priority across organisations. This includes empowerment of boards/elected members to properly scrutinise work on the Duty within organisations, asking the right questions and having the confidence to ask for information in order to provide proper scrutiny.
Awareness Raising: in order to achieve positive buy-in at all levels, a good level of awareness raising is required, particularly at senior manager, director/chief executive and board levels. There are materials available on the Fairer Scotland Duty Knowledge Hub which can assist with carrying out training and materials and webinars will be made available on an ongoing basis.
Training: in tandem with awareness raising, training is also useful in ensuring that those at a senior level fully understand the Duty and their responsibilities, as well as for employees responsible for gathering data, conducting engagement exercises and carrying out impact assessments. This training can be provided internally or by external sources. Annex C contains a range of resources available to assist with raising awareness and knowledge of the Duty.
Developing a Fairer Scotland Duty methodology: the development of a framework, guidance and/or templates which prompt consideration of the Duty at the outset of any strategy development is considered helpful in meeting the Duty, both for those completing the reports/preparation work and to prompt Board members to consider it during the decision-making process.
Outcome Focused: Monitoring and measuring outcomes will help demonstrate the effectiveness of the Duty and the narrowing of inequalities of outcome experienced by people living in socio-economic disadvantage.
Preparing to meet the Duty
Public bodies can prepare for the Duty by addressing the following key considerations from the moment they start to develop a programme/proposal/decision:
Resource and co-ordination: carrying out a Duty assessment is a group exercise and should be appropriately resourced and co-ordinated. The group should include those involved in developing and taking the proposed strategic decisions, bringing together different perspectives on the topic being discussed. A sound understanding of what is proposed is essential to allow the assessment to be completed successfully and inform the decision. At least one member of the group should have undertaken training on how to undertake an assessment.
Start early: it is important that you consider the Duty before decisions are taken and as early in the process as possible. Assessing strategic decisions in light of the Duty is not an end in itself but should be an integral part of development and decision-making. This means that the assessment process must happen before a proposal for a strategic decision is finalised, preferably early in its development but when the proposal and any alternatives are clear enough to be able to make a reasonable assessment. If the proposal then changes significantly, the assessment should be updated to reflect this. The assessment cannot be retrospective, or undertaken only near the end of the process, but instead should be seen as integral to the development process and able to inform the consultation process.
Evidence of likely programme/proposal/decision impacts: as set out in the examples provided in the section on Defining Inequalities of Outcome, there are a range of poorer outcomes experienced by communities across Scotland as a result of socio-economic disadvantage. It is important when carrying out a Duty assessment (as with all impact assessments) to consider evidence for the impact of options and decisions, not just the background evidence of inequalities experienced. There is a raft of information and evidence of what can work in tackling socio-economic disadvantage and the inequalities it causes which could inform your assessment. It will also help to take a collaborative approach, working across all public bodies in your area subject to the Duty, sharing information, expertise and engagement with communities. This can help unpick and share data to support one another to undertake robust assessments. Evidence from those with lived experience of socio-economic disadvantage on how they might be affected by different options and what would work best for them is particularly important for decision-makers to hear. Remember however that is vital to go back to those engaged with, in order to confirm how their contributions were factored into the final decision. There is further guidance on engaging with communities in the evidence section below.
A definition of socio-economic disadvantage has been set out earlier in this guidance. Public bodies are working within their own specific contexts so may wish to use this definition but are able to adapt it as a starting point for future decision-making involving the Duty. For example, public bodies working across Community Planning Partnerships may already have a definition in use or they may want to work together on developing a shared one. Once defined, the public body should usefully describe the patterns of socio-economic disadvantage within its areas of interest.
Public bodies should determine what the key inequalities of outcome are, from their perspective. Crucially these should be inequalities of outcome the public body could realistically do something about. A key focus here should be thinking through the links between socio-economic concerns and equality outcomes – this is an ideal opportunity to bring together issues of sex, race, and disability (for example) with issues of socio-economic and place-based disadvantage. For many public sector bodies, key inequalities of outcome have been identified in Local Outcomes Improvement Plans and associated Locality Action Plans.
Public bodies should identify which strategic decisions are taken as a matter of course. Many public authorities already routinely do this when considering their role and contribution to partnership working and in helping to shape the priorities for specific places which will be set out in shared plans, for example Local Outcome Improvement Plans. Identifying which strategic decisions tend to be taken when should help public bodies with their planning processes.
Through all the stages, it is important to involve relevant communities, particularly people with direct experience of poverty and disadvantage. Note too that the costs of involving some groups – for example, disabled people – can often be higher, as barriers to their participation need to be overcome. Some areas have Poverty Truth Commissions which engage local people to fully explore issues and solutions at a local level. These can be helpful in informing assessments. There will be a range of organisations in local areas who engage with those experiencing socio-economic disadvantage and it will help to bring direct experience to your assessments by working with these organisations. Your local third sector interface may be able to help put you in touch with local organisations. Community Planning Partnerships and partnership delivery of locality plans should involve engagement with communities, and these are other useful mechanisms which can be taken advantage of to ensure that decisions made help to improve outcomes, or at least do not make outcomes worse. It is always important to feed back to those engaged with on how their contributions were factored into the final decision.